Disclaimer: This review is from a reviewer’s copy of the game that was provided by North Star Games to Open Seat Gaming, but opinions are our own based on several plays of the game.
Game: The Quacks of Quedlinburg
Publisher: North Star Games
Design: Wolfgang Warsch
Art: Dennis Lohausen, Wolfgang Warsch
Mechanisms: Pool building, Press your luck
Number of Players: 2 – 4
Game Time: 45 minutes
Description: The Quacks of Quedlinburg (Quacks) is a pool building, press your luck, alchemy adventure. Each player begins with a bag of basic ingredients of different colors. Each round consists of the following steps:
- The start player reveals a card from the Fortune Teller deck which either has a one-time effect or a passive effect that affects that round.
- Each player then individually pulls ingredients from their bag and places them on their pot board. The number on the ingredient is how many spaces from the last ingredient you place the new one. Some ingredients also have effects when placed, or at the end of the round.
- If a player ever goes over a total of 7 on their mushrooms (white ingredients), adding up the numbers on the ingredients, they bust and must stop placing ingredients.
- Once all players either stop or bust, players then receive the rewards from the space above their highest placed ingredient. Players receive victory points and coins they can use to buy new ingredients (busted players must choose to receive either the victory points OR the coins, not both).
- Some spaces also reward rubies, which can be used to refill your flask (which you can use to put an ingredient back in your bag before placing it, but then cannot be used again until refilled), to move the starting point on your pot higher (meaning it takes less ingredients to get to the better rewards after that), or turned in for victory points at the end of the game.
- The start player passes to the left by passing the Fortune Teller deck.
After 9 rounds, the player with the most victory points wins!
Review: Quacks is nothing short of a delightful game. The colors are bright and vibrant, the art is reminiscent of a lovely little hamlet in Germany, and who doesn’t want to be a quack doctor making “cures” for stinky feet and pimples?
A note on the theme, first – when we first heard about the game, Sarah and I were a bit apprehensive. We’ve both dealt with medical issues with family members, and so we tend to shy away from themes that involve that in any sense. If you’re like us – don’t worry. As I mentioned, the story behind it is that these quack doctors are making “cures” for random, inconvenient ailments, not serious or fatal illnesses. On top of that, you don’t really notice the theme – you’re just throwing a bunch of stuff into a “pot” (your player board) and making something. It could be a witch’s brew, for all you know.
One of the most astounding things, to me, is how well-balanced it is. Wolfgang Warsch has burst out of the gate with several different designs in the last year, but I can’t imagine the math and work that went into the balance of this game. Every one of our games was really close, and we enjoyed the tension that this brought, especially in the last 2 rounds of the game.
The rulebook is quite good, especially for being a translation from the original language. We were able to get a pretty solid idea of what we were doing right out of the gate, and after a round or two, we were in a rhythm. The only time we had to look back at the rulebook was to double check exactly how a certain ingredient worked, and the almanac in the back made it easy to figure that out.
One of the best things about this game are the Rat Tails on the scoreboard. It sounds weird, but the idea is one of the most ingenious catch up mechanisms that I’ve ever seen in a Euro game. Your starting point on your player board increases throughout the game in a few different ways. But, if you’re behind, you count the number of Rat Tails between you and the player with the highest number of points. Then, you put your Rat token that many spaces in front of your “starting space.” This gives you an advantage (cause it takes fewer pulls to go further) without kicking down the first player’s sandcastle, so to speak.
Catch up mechanisms are so important because it helps everyone to continue in the fun if they feel like they have something of a chance. At least once, one of us (Sarah, Scott, or I) was pretty far behind but, by utilizing a Rat Tail advantage wisely, one of us would end up winning by a point or two.
One of the other genius parts of this game is what Warsch did for replayability. Instead of just having static options for the special abilities of each type of ingredient, there are actually 4 different abilities for everything but the Pumpkin (orange) and the Moth (black – which only changes based on player count). Each special ability is different and has varying levels of strategy (the complexity of which is indicated by where the bookmark is on each ingredient “book.”). So, you can mix and match, use all from the same level of difficulty, or do whatever you want. And, as a result, the game feels super different every time you mix it up!
In short, it’s no surprise to me that Quacks won the Kennerspiel des Jahres. It’s definitely a little more strategy and rules than what you would expect to see from a standard Spiel winner, but it’s a solid game that gaming families and gamers alike would enjoy. Its unique mix of bag building and push your luck, always taunting you to keep going so that you can try to get that next ruby, or those ingredients that you want to try and combo. Quacks is, no question, one of the best games that I’ve played that was published in 2018.
Try, Buy, Deny: The Quacks of Quedlinburg is 100% a buy for people who like any form of press-your-luck games, especially if they prefer the style that has all sorts of luck mitigation. I haven’t played another bag-builder yet (Orleans and Groves are sitting on our unplayed shelves), but I imagine it’s at least a try for people who like bag-building games as well.
And, if you don’t fall in those categories, you need to at least try it. Even if you don’t like push your luck games, the mitigation and light strategy behind this one may be enough to change your mind.